One Direction and Donor Retention: The Direction Connection

This past weekend I saw One Direction in concert. Yes, I am 22 and no, I am not ashamed to admit that I loved every second of it. One DNow you may be wondering what my concert experience could possibly have to do with nonprofits. Well, I couldn’t help but look around the almost filled Lucas Oil Stadium and think about the incredible support this band has from its fans and how that relationship is similar to the relationship between donors and nonprofit organizations. The ways in which One Direction retains their fans is mirrored in the way that nonprofits can retain and build meaningful relationships with donors. (Note – I am not speaking as a fanatical fan but as someone who has written a research paper on the relationship between the band and their fans.)

Thank You’s

One Direction wouldn’t be the global phenomenon that they are today without the support of their fans. The band knows this and take the time to thank their fans. During the concert, each of the four members took the time to say thank you. And certainly not every fan deserved it (apparently not every person listened to the band’s plea “please don’t throw things at us”). Donors and the people who support your organization always deserve a thank-you. It never hurts to say it. No one likes going to a concert that they’ve paid a substantial amount of money to attend without receiving any acknowledgment or thanks from the performer. Support from the audience, whether fans or donors, is necessary and should always be acknowledged.


I’ve recently read a few blog posts about fundraising where the respective authors stress the fact that money shouldn’t be the main focus when fundraising. One author, Simone Joyaux, likens the fundraising journey to storytelling. “Fundraising and fundraisers are story listeners and storytellers. We fundraisers listen to stories about clients, those who are served…Then, you and I retell those client stories. And we invite those clients to tell those stories in their own voices. Now, you and I should also be listening to donor stories. Because donors are the real heroes of all fundraising stories”.

I think this is a neat way to look at fundraising. Joyaux talks about how organizations can get wrapped up in telling of their accomplishments and lose sight of the donors’ involvement in the story. If a donor feels like a part of your organization’s journey and believes in the stories you tell and the work you do, they will be all more willing to add their own story and their support to your organization’s journey.

One Direction has constantly placed their fans at the center of their story (constantly saying “None of this would be possible without you”) and it would be beneficial for organizations to do the same with donors. Why? Because winning the hearts and minds of donors is a better long term investment than just winning their wallets.


What makes One Direction’s fan base stand out? Their activism. The typical fan isn’t one who sits idly by but is one who is constantly engaged and active in the One Directionsphere. For example, in May the fan base launched a campaign to make a recent song shoot to Number 1 on the charts and get it played on the radio as a single. In the band’s early years, pressure from the fans was instrumental in getting the band’s single “What Makes You Beautiful” played on the radio and played in the U.S.

The ability to launch such campaigns is aided mainly by the use of social media, which both connects the band to the fans and the fans to each other. It’s a worldwide network of support. Finding ways in which donors can connect to your organization and connect to each other can build comradery or a sense of belonging. You can’t build a meaningful or strong relationship with someone if you don’t connect and communicate with them.

I know that organizations can’t rely on good looks, talent, and charm to bring in 75 million a year, but I think there are still some valuable lessons to be drawn from how One Direction maintains their fan base, such as

  • Maintain the integrity of the organization
  • Say thank-you
  • Allow donors and their stories to be a part of your organization’s fundraising
  • Stay connected to your donors and connect your donors to each other.

If you are looking for resources on donors and fundraising, here are a few:

Donor Books 1         Donor Books 2         

Also, a link to Part 1 of Simone Joyaux’s article: “Fundraising Isn’t About Money…Neither is Giving”

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